Local public defender office applauds call by Evers, GOP for better hourly playSubmitted: 03/01/2019
Local public defender office applauds call by Evers, GOP for better hourly play
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter

RHINELANDER - Secretaries in Rhinelander's public defender office often have to call 200 or 300 private attorneys before they find one willing to take a case.

Cases drag out and defendants wait in jail, in large part because Wisconsin pays these "private bar" attorneys the lowest hourly rate in the country.

But that could be about to change.

In Thursday night's budget address, Gov. Tony Evers proposed nearly doubling the hourly wage for these lawyers, who take cases when state public defenders have a conflict.

"We're increasing the private bar reimbursement rate to $70 an hour," Evers said. "We have to ensure that once someone encounters our criminal justice system, that they're receiving adequate, fair, and vigorous representation."

Courtney Jolin manages Rhinelander's State Public Defender office, which serves Vilas, Oneida, Forest, and Florence counties.

Roughly half of her cases need a private bar attorney.

But many lawyers refuse to take cases because of the low pay rate, stalling the system for months at a time.

"When we don't have a defense attorney to take over that important role and make sure that people's constitutional rights are being protected, the court system essentially grinds to a halt," Jolin said.

That situation happens often.

"My staff keeps having to tell judges that we don't have a lawyer for this person. A lot of times, that person is sitting in custody, and that has a huge effect on their family's life," Jolin said.

Evers also proposed adding more prosecutors to county offices across the state.

These proposals might find favor with the Republican legislature. Republicans proposed the same changes just a few weeks ago.

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